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Planned tree removal for new washroom facility at Saanich’s Elk Lake riles park users

Residents call for alternate location, CRD says project adheres to Saanich’s tree protection bylaw
A project at Elk/Beaver Lake Regional Park will see a new washroom facility built on the site of the old building. The project calls for a number of mature trees to be removed and 16 native trees planted in their place by CRD Parks. (Megan Atkins-Baker/News Staff)

A project is underway to replace the existing washrooms and add a children’s playground near Hamsterly Beach in Elk/Beaver Lake Regional Park.

The application by the Capital Regional District to the District of Saanich proposes removal of seven trees to accommodate the new washroom facility and to address two additional hazard trees in the area – up to seven additional trees will be determined at a later date as the project unfolds, according to CRD spokesperson Andy Orr.

With a number of trees marked off at the park, the project has already met opposition by residents who frequent the area.

Regular visitor and Saanich resident Pamela Lewis questions the removal of the trees, pointing to the impacts of climate change and the heatwave experienced in the summer of 2021.

“Why are we cutting down trees and how do we assess whether they’re healthy or not?” she asked.

“Given the heat dome we need to escape to our parks and go for a swim, sit under trees and get some shade, and if you’re taking out (these) Douglas fir trees you’re removing the shade and air purifying roles that these trees play.”

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Engineers and a certified arborist worked with the CRD to choose an optimal location for the washrooms that minimizes the number of trees to be removed, Orr said. That spot is on the current facility site, he added.

“CRD has worked through all the required permitting processes with the District of Saanich, including a review through Saanich Parks to ensure compliance with Saanich’s Tree Protection Bylaw,” he said.

As part of the project, the CRD will plant a minimum of 16 native replacement trees.

“With ongoing study and understanding of the importance of preserving habitat, there is greater knowledge that older trees are the best at capturing carbon, certainly more so than newly planted, young trees that in addition, will require years of extra watering and care to ensure their survival,” Saanich resident Em McCormick wrote in a letter to Black Press Media opposing the development.

She wants Saanich and the CRD to reconsider the placement of the facility. “There is much more room and available space that’s already clear where the new washroom could be moved to without the removal of mature native tree species.”

Saanich Parks reviews all applications to ensure they are compliant with the district’s Tree Protection Bylaw, said Megan Catalano, communications manager.

“The Community Charter is the provincial legislation that affords local governments the authority to regulate trees however, it also provides some restrictions,” she added. “Local governments are not necessarily able to prohibit tree removals.”

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